The life of the expat housewives is continuing largely as before, in spite of the political turmoil. We are still able to shop, although the cost of food has gone up noticeably, buy a cappuccino, arrange children’s play dates and meet up for lunch. The sun is shining too and we are all wandering around in summer clothes and flipflops as usual. Overseas family members have postponed their planned February visits but hope to come at a later date.
However, on Tuesday some expat wives were locked into shopping centres in our area for a short time, while riots threatened outside following the murder of the ODM Embakasi MP. Shop owners speedily closed doors due to fear of looting but reopened quickly when the threat had passed.
Another friend was frightened on the same day when she was driving down Ngong Road unaware that she was heading towards a rowdy crowd of protesters. Motorists shouted to one another through wound down windows: ‘There is a riot coming this way, turn back!’ My friend said that she has never come across so many drivers, buses and people so determinedly NOT wanting to be involved in a riot. She said it was quite scary as everyone struggled to do thirteen point turns to pivot around, but once they all started heading in the opposite direction, they took over the entire road and formed four orderly lanes of one way traffic straight out of there.
Many expats have been briefly shut into shopping centres before (including me a few times over the years) and though it’s frightening, once inside you are pretty safe and it’s just a case of waiting it out until the drama passes.
Lately, we have all dropped food and clothes into the Red Cross Donation pick up points at the supermarket and should continue to do so as more and more people are displaced from their homes each day and informal refuges camps are increasingly overwhelmed. Others are beginning to think of fund raising ideas for the crisis appeal.
Most housewives are reading the local papers and watching the local news a lot more than before, myself included.
We drop off and pick up our kids at school as we did before, and have restarted exercise classes. There have been a few days where we have been worried about to-ing and fro-ing due to unrest in the city, but in the event we have managed to get about safely eventually. I think it’s true to say that most housewives are staying closer to home and avoiding venturing out too far.
We are talking to the people who work in and around our house and listening to their concerns over personal safety in the places where they live. Since the trouble began in Western Kenya, the wave of unrest has been getting geographically closer. First we were concerned about family members of staff who live upcountry, but last week the Rift Valley ‘backlash’ against violence carried out by opposition supporters in the West started in Nakuru, then moved down to Naivasha and yesterday Kikuyu village was the target, with reports of disturbances even closer in Dagoretti market (only a mile or two from where we live).
As a consequence there have been rumours of ‘Mungiki’ gangs of youths being ‘bused in’ to Nairobi residential areas with the express purpose of flushing out, threatening and looting all non Kikuyus in acts of revenge. The people who work at our house are from Western Kenya.
However, in the midst of mediation talks, the Government stated that they are going to adopt a ‘new approach’ to the violence, starting today. They said they would also make some use of the military to secure roads to ensure safe passage around the country. My house keeper asked; ‘But, how can they possibly ensure the safety of everyone? Everywhere?’
Us expats are trying to feel more positive as talks are now underway to solve the political impasse, but no one is making plans to travel and most are looking at a lean few months in business due to the economy being so hard hit by the crisis. Another friend told me that her husband who is a Kenya Airways pilot has been told that his salary will be halved this month due to the loss of so much revenue and if he doesn’t like it, quite simply he must: ‘take it or leave it.’